from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

There will always be mechanical certainties with cars. One certainty is, if used long enough every part of every car ever built will fail, including batteries. As a matter of fact your battery might be ready to quit if it’s been in service for over three years. Granted, some batteries last longer but three years is when many failures occur. Plus, extremely hot or cold weather can instantly push a marginal battery over the edge.

Guaranteed, stranded you’ll be if you don’t have regular battery tests or fail to recognize the symptoms of a marginal battery. Even now your battery may be trying to tell you it’s tired and wants to be retired. But modern batteries don’t always give warnings which means the only thing you can do if you don’t like being stranded is; preemptive battery testing.

Fortunately, most batteries give some advance notice if you pay close attention. Picture this; you’re driving at night, headlights and heater or air conditioning on, and you’re caught by a red light. Your turn signal is on but something is wrong. You scan the instruments and notice the turn signal indicator is flashing very slowly and your dash lights look dim. WTH is happening.

When the red light goes green, you hit the accelerator and instantly the lights get bright and the signal goes back to a normal rhythm. Oh no! Panic sets in, is the car going to quit? Do I have a major problem? Am I to be stranded? What should I do? In reality you could wind up stranded, you could have a major electrical problem but probably not.

Most likely your battery is asking for an early retirement. But unless you want to guarantee problems and possibly damage to your electrical system you need a battery and electrical system test immediately. Take your car to a qualified technician and have a battery test performed using computer driven test equipment. Today’s battery and electrical system testers look quite different than what you have seen in the past. Gone are the massive, old heavy-load testers of yesteryear, they just aren’t accurate enough for today’s batteries. Now battery testers have digital screens, most print test results and many are handheld. Beware the old timer who swears by his turkey-baster-looking hydrometer as that train has left the station and ain’t coming back.

I’m in one of those professions where I have to be at work on time, radio and television stations don’t want to hear about a dead battery making me late. If you have a similar job or just plain hate being stranded you may want to do what I do, automatically replace my battery at about the three year mark. To me replacing the battery before it lets me down is smart because if it fails and I’m late for work I lose money and damage my reputation for punctuality. Not good! Plus at the end of the day I still have to buy a battery.

I look at batteries as preventive maintenance. I don’t wait for my oil to damage my engine before I change it and I don’t wait for my battery to leave me stranded before I replace it. There comes a time where I know the end is near it’s just a case of will it happen today or tomorrow?